By Christian Koelle, Staff Writer
The ARCA Menards Series season kicks off on Saturday with the Lucas Oil 200 driven by General Tire.
For the 40th time, the ARCA Menards Series schedule kicks off at Daytona. 37 drivers will run in the season opener up from 34 in 2021. Corey Heim is the only defending winner who entered in the Lucas Oil 200 on Saturday and will look to go back-to-back in the No. 20 Crescent Tools Toyota Camry.
Saturday’s race will be the 44th race at the Daytona International Speedway in ARCA Menards Series history. Past victors in the Daytona season opener include Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Harrison Burton, John Wes Townley, Bobby Gerhart, Mike Wallace, Grant Adcox, and Kyle Petty among others. Gerhart has the most victories at Daytona with eight.
The defending race winner Heim will jump behind the wheel of the No. 20 at Daytona. He’ll be sharing the No. 20 with Jesse Love in 2022 and earned his first of two Superspeedway races in 2021. He swept the Superspeedways in 2021 and helped use those finishes to propel him with a chance at the championship. Heim finished second in points in 2021 to Ty Gibbs. He used his second career victory at Daytona to propel him to six total victories in 2021. Despite not running the full season, Heim made his season debut in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Friday night. He finished 32nd after being involved in an accident but was running solid before. Heim will start from the pole position.
Ty Gibbs has moved on from the ARCA Menards Series as Joe Gibbs Racing has moved on. Kyle Busch Motorsports has taken over the ARCA program and will have former Venturini Motorsports driver Drew Dollar will pilot the No. 18 Lynx Capitol Toyota Camry in the season opener. He’ll run a total of four races with KBM in 2022, the races where Sammy Smith cannot run due to being too young. Dollar will be making his 35th start in the ARCA Menards Series and has two starts at Daytona. He will be pulling the Saturday double as he’ll make his Xfinity Series debut following the ARCA race. Dollar will start 10th in Saturday’s Lucas Oil 200 presented by General Tire.
Nick Sanchez is back and will run full-time with Rev Racing in 2022 but will have a teammate with Rajah Caruth. Sanchez earned the victory in the final race of 2021 at Kansas and will look to rally that momentum into the 2022 season. Sanchez finished third in ARCA points in 2021 and became really solid after a solid showing at Talladega. Now that Sanchez has a plethora of experience, he is now one of the veterans in the ARCA Menards Series. Caruth will be getting called up from the ARCA Menards Series East in 2022. He finished third in ARCA East points tallying two top-five and five top-10 finishes. He also earned a top-five in the ARCA Menards Series at Salem. Both Sanchez (23rd) and Caruth (21st) will start outside the top-20 but will look to run to the front.
Gus Dean makes his return to the ARCA Menards Series in 2022 on a part-time basis with Venturini Motorsports. It will be his first start in the series since 2020. He has a ton of experience at Daytona with five starts to his credit but he hasn’t had the finishes. He earned his Daytona-best finish in 2020 where he finished 23rd. Dean does have a victory on a Superspeedway in his career coming at Talladega in 2016. On Saturday, Dean will start from the third position, his best start since he earned the pole at Springfield in 2018. In his Talladega victory in 2016, he started from the second position and has his best Daytona qualifying effort.
Mason Diaz qualified in the fourth position on Friday, his best career start in the ARCA Menards Series. Diaz will make his superspeedway debut on Saturday and is getting the promotion from the ARCA Menards Series East. Diaz finished sixth in points with Visconti Motorsports in 2021. With his performance, he was given the opportunity to test with Fast Track Racing during the preseason test and will now make his Daytona debut with Jeff McClure.
Sean Corr has come rather close to earning the victory at Daytona a few times in his career and on Saturday, he’ll make his 13th Daytona start. Since 2014, Corr has finished inside the top-10 four times including a fourth-place finish in 2020. Running a Bob Keselowski throwback paint scheme, Corr earned his second-best career qualifying effort of fifth on Friday. Corr started from the pole in 2012 but had engine issues that relegated him to a 43rd place finish. Is 2022 the year Corr earns that elusive Daytona victory?
It’s been a year since Greg Van Alst put his name on national television for running so well in the season opener. He made his return to the series for the first time since 2002 and ran a career-high eight races in 2021. That included his first career top-five finish and three top-10 finishes. Despite running so well in the first two superspeedway races of 2021, his finishes didn’t reflect how well he ran. He finished second at Winchester and sixth at Michigan the following weekend. Van Alst will start sixth on Saturday, three spots off his career-best start he earned in this race last season.
Tim Richmond was gifted a David Gilliland Racing car last season after the accident at Michigan and on Friday, that car still had speed as he earned his career-best start of seventh and he’ll be seeking his best career finish. He has two career starts at Daytona with the best finish of 18th in 2020. Not running a full-time schedule in 2022, Richmond will be seeking to gain everything he can gain in the season opener.
Willie Mullins will make his 23rd ARCA Menards Series start on Saturday qualifying in the eighth position. After a disappointing outing at Daytona in 2021, Mullins will return to his No. 3 and look to better the best career finish he earned in 2018. Despite the bad luck at Daytona, Mullins still left 2021 with a top-10 finish at Elko finishing eighth. With that finish, he extended his top-10 streak to two years in a row with at least one top-10 finish. In two of the last three ARCA Menards Series races at Daytona, bad luck has struck the No. 3 team. Destroying the radiator last year and being involved in an early accident with Michael Self in 2019 really took a toll on the organization. The incident at Daytona last year kept them from running at Talladega later on in 2021.
Chuck Hiers posted a fast lap on Friday and will start Saturday’s race from the 9th position. It’s his second straight top-10 qualifying effort at Daytona and his second career top-10 start. Hiers has raced at Daytona more than any other track in his career with five starts. His career-best finish came in 2019 when he finished 14th. He is the highest qualified Fast Track Racing entry.
Notables not to qualify within the top-10 include Toni Breidinger, Andy Jankowiak, and Daniel Dye. Breidinger led the way in the practice session while Jankowiak was inside the top-10 in Thursday’s session. Dye is making his superspeedway debut on Saturday after being promoted from the ARCA Menards Series East.
The Lucas Oil 200 presented by General Tire goes live on FOX Sports 1 at 1:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, February 19th. A live stream will also be available on the Fox Sports App and can be listened to via MRN / SiriusXM (XM channel 391, online channel 981) and on the ARCA Racing website.